Tips for "Twitchers" During Galveston Spring Bird Migration

Twitcher (noun): a person who goes to great lengths to view new bird species.

For birders, this is a magical time of year. From March through early June, an estimated 2.5 billion to 3.5 billion birds will migrate from their wintering grounds in Central and South America to their summer nesting grounds in the northern United States and Canada. Many millions of them will pass over Galveston on their way.

pictured: All photos by Bob Becker

The peak of that migration occurs from mid-April through the first half of May. Some migrants will hug the coastline as they travel north, while others will fly the perilous 600 miles or more across the Gulf of Mexico.

Tips for Spring Birding in Galveston

Here are a few pointers on when, where and how to bird Galveston Island during spring migration. No system is fool-proof, but doing some planning beforehand will increase your odds of a successful birding visit.

1. Check eBird Charts

Check eBird bar charts for the best days and weeks to see your target species. If you want to see a Golden-winged Warbler, for example, eBird data here. This will show you they are most abundant at a local hot spot here from the second week of April through most of May. If it’s a Scarlet Tanager you want, they are here through April and most of May. Baltimore Orioles follow a similar pattern. The much-sought Cape May Warbler (pictured below) may appear in March, some in April, and a few in May. They are not as abundant as other migrants, however, and the eBird bar graphs will tell you that.

Cape May Warbler

2. Check BirdCast Migration Forecasts

BirdCast is an online database that tracks the movements of migrating birds. Enter Galveston County, and it will show you how many birds flew over us the previous night. The greater the number of birds in migration, the more likely we will see some of them here.

Example BirdCast forecast map. Click image to view the latest forecast.

3. Check Weather Forecasts

Once you determine the window of opportunity for your birding visit, check the weather forecasts. I like to start with weather conditions in Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a starting point for many migrating birds, and if it is raining there, or if winds are coming in strongly from the North, they won’t fly. They will wait for a day or two for more favorable conditions.

Next, check the forecasts for Galveston County. If a rainy cool front propelled by north winds passes into the Gulf during the night while birds are headed our way, many will tire and land on the coast. If the winds are from the south and under clear skies, many migrants riding the trade winds will pass right over the coast and keep on going.

Click here for Galveston Weather info

4. Find The Perfect Location

No matter what the conditions, birders by the hundreds will visit Galveston most days in April and May. Well-known sites like Lafitte’s Cove will be crowded. If crowds are not your thing, consider visiting lesser-known spots like Corps Woods, near the Galveston ferry landing; Kempner Park at 27th and O streets; or Dos Vacas Muertas, a Houston Audubon refuge on Seabird Drive on Galveston’s West end.

If you want to see soaring seabirds and showy shorebirds, check out East Beach, Galveston Island State Park, the ponds on 8-mile Road and San Luis Pass on the island’s far West end. All will be packed with birds during peak migration.

Birding Galveston

If you are unfamiliar with Galveston and the Texas coast, a good introduction is to take one of the guided tours during the annual FeatherFest Birding Festival from April 20-23, 2023.

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Robert Becker

Robert Becker is a retired journalist and avid birder who lives in Galveston.